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'Out-of-London' placements sow division where unity is crucial

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Exclusive LGC research reveals a huge increase in the number of London families receiving help from their council to move out of the borough, and in many cases leave the capital altogether.

The phenomenon is not new: movements out of London have been making the headlines since at least 2012, when Newham LBC found itself accused of “social cleansing” over proposals to relocate residents in Stoke-on-Trent. But LGC’s analysis reveals for the first time the scale and nature of the support to move.

Some of the London councils responding to our Freedom of Information Act request are routinely helping with measures such as cash deposits, rent payments and removals fees.

In many cases, the reasons for such moves are complex. But welfare reform is undeniably a major cause.

Redbridge LBC, one of the few boroughs able to provide figures for the number of relocated residents affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy or “bedroom tax”, told us it had helped social tenants who were “under-occupying” their properties to move as far afield as Dorset and Clacton-on-Sea.

Authorities outside London will have to adapt to this policy, as it is likely to become a long-term fixture. The factors that could bring it to an end - a solution to London’s housing crisis and an overhaul of welfare policy - are unlikely to come about soon.

A Court of Appeal ruling this week, which backed Westminster City Council over its offer to rehouse a family in Bletchley, will reassure boroughs considering the same approach.

Yet the policy presents major risks. As well as increasing pressure on housing, education and other services in the areas to which London residents move, it raises child protection concerns.

What has been disappointing about the movement of families so far is that it appears to have sown division within local government. There are tales of boroughs outside the capital not being told about residents being placed in their area, and resorting to the Freedom of Information Act to find out. In turn, some of these boroughs have tried to discourage placements: until a High Court judge called an end to the practice in July, Sandwell MBC, Tendring DC and Basildon BC were preventing some new arrivals from claiming council tax support.

The best London boroughs have introduced measures to support the residents they relocate: at least one employs an officer based in the region to which they move people, to liaise with the receiving council. Yet other London boroughs stand accused of placing their residents in unsuitable accommodation with little or no support.

In all of this, councils are dealing with the consequences of a range of social policy failures for which they are not wholly responsible, chiefly a desperate shortage of affordable housing.

Everyone knows the real, long-term solution is to address the housing crisis. But for the foreseeable future, councils must unite in the interests of the residents who relocate, and do everything in their power to make a difficult system work.

Proper information-sharing should be just the first step towards a more co-operative approach.


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